About to record my fourth audio drama, Oranges and Lemons, I approach it with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I have found that putting an audio drama together can be a roller coaster ride. You could do without some of the uncertainties - like not having enough actors. Oranges and Lemons is different to my previous audio dramas which have so far been light-hearted tongue-in-cheek affairs based around village life. I would describe this as a challenging drama about domestic abuse. I was inspired to write this because on learning about several cases, I felt appalled by a justice system which still fails many such victims.
It was probably this drama, originally a radio play sent to the BBC, which was the catalyst for my idea for listenupnorth.com. After having the script professionally read for feedback by a well established and well respected script writer, it was returned with such comments as ‘excellent’ and ‘a very powerful tale told brilliantly’. So, with high hopes, I sent it off to the BBC from where it was returned with the description ‘a contrivance too far’! So when it’s recorded, edited and sound effects on I’ll let you judge for yourselves. The BBC rejection was actually a good thing as that was the turning point where I said ‘Enough - I’m going to make my own work on my own terms and get it out there to an audience myself!’
Once the date was booked for the recording of Oranges and Lemons, I contacted a married couple, excellent actors whom I know through our local am dram to play 2 of the leading parts. I also arrange for 3 further actors: Helen (The Stencil Library), from my am dram, to play the main role and Robin from a nearby village to play her mother. My friend, writer Sue Hedworth will take on the role of the counsellor. After leaving e-mails for several weeks I rather suspect that the married couple have gone on a long holiday, which is later confirmed. Ten days to go and I’m short of 2 lead actors. Most of my own am dram have recently completed another audio drama for me so I don’t feel I can ask again so soon. I ask Robin if she has any ideas. She’ll have a think. Later that day, I pick up a phone message with names of 2 potential actors, Sue N and John.
We all assemble, Sue N and John like the script and are happy to do it although they are a little older than the parts they are playing. So we have a read through. Sue N is to play a young Mum with a regional accent, the ‘abused’ one. Originally I had imagined the voice in Yorkshire and written it so, probably because that’s my own working class accent, but Sue N finds that difficult so she makes her own Scottish accent stronger but keeps her voice light with the effect that she sounds young and vulnerable. John’s character is the husband of Helen’s protagonist both very middle class English, their accents contrast with Sue N’s an important consideration for audio.
However, as we read through, I realise that John’s voice actually sound quite a bit older than I had intended for his character and older than his wife’s. It’s a dilemma because his delivery and empathy with the role is spot on and I really appreciate that John has put himself out for me at such short notice. Just as the first read-through is coming to a close I have a light bulb moment: I tactfully suggest that I write an extra line in to make the protagonist’s husband quite a bit older than she is – a father figure and that would fit in nicely with her back story.
Everyone seems happy but I realise that there are 3 other minor male roles to be filled and it’s a tall order for John to put on 4 different voices! I await a friend from the village to return from holiday, Andrew, also in am dram, to ask if he could take on a couple of minor parts. There is also a part for the protagonist as a young girl but despite reminding Teen 2 just how much I’ve paid out for drama lessons over the past 5 years, she refuses to play the part as anything to do with Mum is definitely ‘uncool’. Fortunately for me she has a friend, Rosie, who thinks the idea is ‘fab’.
The other thing I need to arrange is a photographer. I have a showcase coming up for the end of my Creative GLEAM Entrepreneur scheme and want to put a series of photographs together showing how an audio drama evolves from writing through the rehearsal stage and to production. So I ask Ross Parker also on Creative GLEAM and just setting up his commercial photography business to come along during the morning of recording at the studio to take a series of photos.
Between rehearsals, the final edit for writer friend Sue Hedworth reading of her poetry comes through in addition to writer and journalist Harry Pearson’s recording of an extract from his wonderfully humorous book Hound Dog Days. I thoroughly enjoy listening to them and add the audio files to the blog, also to be accessed by the right hand sidebar links.
We meet up for a second rehearsal, I always find it difficult to advise people how to act – it’s all so subjective. It’s interesting to see how differently actors can interpret a role to how you viewed it as a writer but sometimes that leaves you with too many choices. Poor Sue H tries all different voices for the counsellor, I still can’t make my mind up. Andrew only has 2 words ‘Stupid Bitch’ in his first scene but I make him repeat them until it becomes farcical. Something about this rehearsal sounds a bit flat, I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps everyone else is picking up my twitchiness although I’m trying to be as relaxed as I can. There’s a fight scene, with everyone seated sedately as they read. I realise what the problem is. I ask John and Helen to stand up and pretend they are having a fight whilst they are reading, no, shouting their lines - much better.
Despite everyone’s best attempts, I can’t help but feel a pang of anxiety as they leave. Sunday is looming and that will be the real thing.